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Widodo's bid to tackle Indonesian rights cases sparks fury

Critics say creation of a non-judicial settlement team will worsen impunity in Indonesia

President Joko Widodo, wearing green traditional attire, delivers the State of the Nation address on Aug. 16 in front of parliament in Jakarta

President Joko Widodo, wearing green traditional attire, delivers the State of the Nation address on Aug. 16 in front of parliament in Jakarta. (Photo: Cabinet Secretariat's website)

Published: August 17, 2022 08:19 AM GMT

Updated: August 17, 2022 09:02 AM GMT

Human rights activists in Indonesia have strongly criticized a move by President Joko Widodo’s to resolve past gross human rights violations through non-judicial mechanisms, saying that it will worsen impunity.

In his annual State of the Nation address in parliament on Aug. 16 on the eve of Independence Day, Widodo said he has continued to pay serious attention to past gross human rights violations and signed a presidential decree on the formation of a non-judicial settlement team to deal with them.

According to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), there are 12 unresolved gross human rights violation cases that took place between 1965 and 2014.

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They include the 1965-66 anti-communist massacres in which between 500,000 and three million people were killed according to different estimates after the Communist Party was blamed for a failed coup attempt.

Others involved clashes with students in 1998-99 in Jakarta that killed dozens of young people, riots in May 1998 which saw more than 1,000 people killed — many of whom were ethnic Chinese, the 2004 murder of activist Munir Said Thalib, and shootings by security forces in 2014 that killed four local youths in Papua province's Paniai district.

Hendardi, the director of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, called the formation of a non-judicial settlement team “a project to increase impunity and whitewash gross human rights violations.”

"It also institutionalizes impunity so that it becomes stronger"

“The government’s move proves that President Jokowi [Widodo] is unable and unwilling to resolve cases of human rights violations which have been investigated by Komnas HAM,” he said in a statement, a copy of which was received by UCA News.

“Despite reviewing facts and information to accelerate judicial mechanisms, the president has ignored public demand for and victims’ hopes for truth and justice.”

He claimed that the presidential decree was part of a conspiracy to whitewash all those involved in human rights violations, but at the same time make Widodo appear to have achieved something.

“A non-judicial mechanism is a form of massive forgiveness and shows how the state washes its hands. It also institutionalizes impunity so that it becomes stronger,” he said, asserting that the presidential decree must be rejected.

Referring to the killing of Munir and the Paniai shootings, Wirya Adiwena, deputy director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said these cases showed the state’s unwillingness to bring the masterminds to justice.

In 2008, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a Garuda Indonesia pilot, was found guilty of murdering Munir and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was released on parole in 2014.

"What he needs to do first is to admit that the state played a part in the dark history"

Two other employees of the flag carrier were tried but found not guilty. A former head of the State Intelligence Agency, Muchdi Purwopranjono, was also tried but the former army general was found not guilty. Activists claim the actual mastermind behind the murder, which took place on a flight to Amsterdam, has yet to face justice. 

This year, in April, the Attorney-General’s Office named a military retiree who was a liaison officer for the Paniai Military Command as a suspect in the Paniai shootings.

“If the president really wants to resolve past gross human rights violations, what he needs to do first is to admit that the state played a part in the dark history and ensure there is no impunity for perpetrators. Legal processes which failed to bring the masterminds to court must be reopened,” Adiwena said.

Meanwhile, Father John Djonga, an activist priest in Papua, also questioned the formation of the non-judicial settlement team.

Without a legal process, there is no justice for victims. As a result, impunity will get worse,” he told UCA News.

“It is the president’s lack of firmness behind the state’s failure to resolve these human rights violations.”

Maria Catarina Sumarsih, a Catholic whose son was killed in 1998 during a protest in Jakarta, likewise objected to the non-judicial settlement team for the same reason, saying the move "ignores victims’ hopes for truth and justice, and is against the 1945 Constitution.”

“As a Catholic, I deplore all kinds of injustice, dishonesty and human rights violations. This is what I have been fighting against.”       

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